A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Make a jazz noise here
Although many claim for hip-hop or various kinds of electronic music to be the spiritual successors to jazz, especially the more far-flung variants like free jazz. Noise is even less beholden to Western tonality, technique, forms, and structure then hip-hop or electronic music. Its sonic excesses bring to mind the ecstasies of John Coltrane; the ferocity of Albert Ayler; the experimentation and punkish emphasis on expression over technique of Ornette Coleman. And like jazz, noise music often assimilates other tangentially-related genres and textures, like Sun Ra‘s early adoption of analog synthesizers or the cross-pollination between rock, funk, and non-Western music of fusion.
The comparison gets even more mileage when you think of criticisms levelled at some of the more extreme varieties of jazz, like the idea that “anyone can make free jazz” or the “playing tennis without a net” analogy of fusion. If you listen to or make free jazz or fusion in any capacity, however, you know there’s more to it than that.
First of all, yes, technically anyone could make free jazz, or noise music. But not everybody does. And as far as the loose structures of fusion, you’ve still got to rely on musical instincts, perhaps even more so than in pop-based music with its predictable changes and formulaic structure. Both of which are learned by doing, by countless hours familiarizing yrself both with music in general as well as whatever yr using as a soundmaking apparatus.
The fact that someone would take the time to master crude oscillators, cheap FX pedals, brutalist samplers, and the hiss and static of white/pink/brown noise makes the lunatics who become noise masters make them even more significant and impressive somehow. And none are more masterful, or more steadfast, than Merzbow‘s Masami Akita.
Door Open at 8 a.m. from 1999 is Merzbow’s homage to free jazz drummers, reverentially evoked in track titles like “Tony Williams Deathspace” and “Jimmy Elvins in Traffic.” It finds Akita working with a hybrid setup utilizing his traditional raw noise tactics combined with a crude form of sampling. It makes for one of Merzbow’s most satisfying releases, forming a bridge between the earliest harsh noise recordings and the more accessible rhythmic noise of early 2000s albums like Merzbeat.
Things kick off sans beat with “Intro,” a sparse 90 seconds of idiot oscillators and hissing wind, sounding nothing so much as some balloon animal parade. The beat finally drops on “Tony Williams Deathspace,” with a loping, irregular bassline that sounds like a flat tire bumping down the tarmac while needles of white hot white noise acupuncture prick yr eardrums. “Deathspace” sounds like a big band’s theme song, revving up the crowd as they take the stage but never really goes anywhere; it’s all buildup and no release.
That comes with “Jimmy Elvins in Traffic,” the first real substantial moment on Door Open and probably the album’s highlight. It’s a surprisingly funky number yet still rigid, like a free jazz drummer getting trapped in some infernal half-life in an early digital sampler, doomed to replay the same three seconds unto eternity. It manages to sound both machine-like and loose – no easy feat. Then the whole thing is doused in petroleum and set on fire. The flaming wreckage is ripped apart, first being shoved through a woodchipper and made into confetti and then, later, fed through a bandsaw.
Then the whole thing is doused in petroleum and set on fire. The flaming wreckage is ripped apart, first being shoved through a woodchipper and made into confetti and then, later, fed through a bandsaw.
This, in turn, gives way to “Jimmy Lyons,” with its lumpen bassline, which gives the entire nearly 11-minute track the feeling of listening to the first 4 notes of “Baby Elephant Walk” on repeat until you’re ready to be institutionalized. This makes the bottom dropping out a few minutes in even more cathartic, as rhythm gives way to atonal washes of sound, like some long, dark spin cycle of the soul.
The two Jimmys are the centrepiece of the album and a good representation of what makes Door Open at 8 a.m. such a special release. It’s a good representation of what makes Merzbow so special, as most of his signature techniques are on display. You won’t find as much of Akita’s stereotypical HNW scouring winds, but that makes it all the easier to appreciate the more subtle dub FX, liquid delays and reverbs turning everything in a wetslick neon blur.
Listening to Door Open at 8 a.m. reminds us that, like free jazz, there’s a huuuge gap between mediocre, uninspired noise and the upper echelons of the genre. And taking the time to master a raw noise setup of oscillators, crude samplers, and FX pedals isn’t any inherently crazier than blowing through a hollow stick. Both can be capable of producing genius if yr willing to put the time in.
Door Open at 8 a.m. is getting a cassette and vinyl re-release on Mexico’s Aurora Central records so keep yr eyes peeled for that!
Got a particular favourite Merzbow album you’d like to see us review as part of our Merzbow Monday series? Or another classic noise album you’d like to see us weigh in on? Let’s us know in the comments or get in touch via Twitter!